03/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

In the Green at the Grocery

Consumers in the red shouldn't worry whether they can still afford to buy green. That's because some purchases don't need to be as green as you may think and others aren't green enough to be worth the extra cost. And that cost can be considerable, sometimes doubling the price. "People are looking for more value in all of their purchases," says Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist with Consumer Reports' "Greener Choices." Rangan says, "Looking at organics critically can save you money."

Fruits such as apples, cherries, and grapes are smart organic purchases if you're concerned about pesticides and other chemicals. On the other hand, many fruits such as bananas, mangoes, oranges and pineapples have thick skins that are peeled off, reducing your exposure. You don't need to spend extra on fruit that can be peeled. When it comes to veggies, organic celery, potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and green beans are worth paying more. However, asparagus, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower and onions are not so worth it because they generally require less pesticide to grow.

Trying to make the smart decision for health and wealth does take some research. The Environmental Working Group, which is a Washington based research and advocacy organization has published a list of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. It's worth checking out to help you determine where to pick and choose.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products are among the priciest. Check out local farmers and try buying directly from them for less. Willing to drop the organic label and switch to just antibiotic or hormone free versions? You'll feast on most of the benefits, but take a big bite out of the price.
When it comes to packaged foods such as breads, oils, potato chips, pasta and cereals, as well as canned or dried fruit and vegetables think twice before paying extra for organic. You really need to look at the ingredients on these. The flour may be organic, but the eggs may not. What's the point?

Since the USDA has not yet established organic standards for seafood, producers have little restriction on their claims. Fish caught in the wild or farmed, with or without contaminants, can be labeled organic as long as they don't carry "certified organic" or "USDA" logos. "So why bother here"? According to Consumer Reports' Rangan.

If you simply must buy only organics all the time, then do what you do for everything else and look for opportunities to get them for less. Supermarkets do put organic foods on sale and offer discount coupons as well. This may mean staggering your shopping at different grocery stores to take full advantage. Also, you may want to consider generic or store brand organic lines. These will be less than name brands and more likely to be on sale. Shopping smart can help you not only preserve your health, but what's left of your wealth.

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